Beating the Winter Blues: Winter Fitness and Accountability, Week 2

Are you an ammy-adult eventer who struggles with motivation during the winter months? Madison Givens feels your pain. She is embarking upon her own winter fitness and accountability journey, and taking EN along for the ride. Check back weekly for updates, encouragement, camaraderie and tips to help you come out swinging this spring!

Photo by Madison Givens.

Hi everyone, and welcome back for week 2!

I want to start off by thanking everyone for all the positive feedback on last week’s edition. I am so humbled by the community’s response to my first article and it warmed my cold little heart knowing I wasn’t totally alone out there. (Not cold in personality, but cold because I am currently freezing my arse off in this weather. Like, seriously guys, I have a pretty big butt, and I am genuinely concerned it’s frozen off.)

Now having said that, let’s jump into this week!

I will say, it was very hard for me not to cry and complain this week about the weather. Apparently I got a little too too excited last week in my expectations of riding this winter, or at least blocked out how bad Iowa winters like to play with your emotions. The temperatures and weather dropped so much that I pretty much had to take it day by day whether I could even go out and see my horse, much less try and figure out how to ride. I am pretty sure the winter gods read last week’s article and were so offended by the idea of trying to be productive that they are now refusing to allow the temps to rise above 10 degrees.

Screenshot via Accuweather.com.

I almost gave up, filled Finn up with extra cookies and waited for the next week to roll around. But I made a promise to myself that I was going to be more productive. No, this does not mean that I was able to ride everyday. But it does mean that I was able to ride one more day than last week. It means that I tried a few new things to help mix up our routine. And it means that I admittedly suffered defeat at least twice at the hands of winter’s wrath. I chose to let the winter winds whisper sweet nothings into my ears, draining me of all motivation and desire to ride twice this week.

Because of the fluctuation in weather, and my growing frustration with not being able to ride consistently or in the daylight, I reached out to my local equine massage therapist for some ideas on how to keep Finn feeling comfortable on the days when riding just wasn’t going to be an option. I wanted to do something to help Finn stay comfortable without having to worry about her becoming a statue in the cold.

A little background:

Supple Equine Sports Massage is run by Chloe Lansing. Chloe has helped me reassess Finn’s entire workout plan by giving me more insight on where she tends to get sore and tight. Finn specifically struggles mostly through her lower back and into her SI. It’s hard for a little downhill-built Quarter Horse to learn to sit down and place more weight on her hind end. Chloe has been wonderful in providing me with various exercises on the ground and in the saddle to help Finn build strength and help prevent her from getting sore.

I recommend giving Chloe’s Facebook a peek. She is constantly posting all sorts of great articles on the muscling of the horse, various stretches and some downright hilarious photos of some of her client’s horses yawning and stretching after their body work is finished.

Photo by Amber Garthwaite.

I would recommend stretching after your horse has had the opportunity to warm up. Generally, when it is too cold to do any solid riding, I place poles ALL over my arena and so some bareback walk work, sometimes throwing a cooler on Finn while we ride to help her muscles warm up more quickly. For 10-15 minutes, we will spend time moseying around the arena. Sometimes on the bit, sometimes relaxed with my hand on the buckle. We change directions constantly and walk over the poles at all sorts of different angles. I really just wanted to get her moving after she had been standing with her butt to the wind all day. Because Finn will stock up in her hind legs if she really hasn’t moved for a while, I try to keep her moving until they look a little better. After Finn has had a chance to warm her body up a bit, we will begin our stretches.

Photo by Madison Givens.

Chloe’s suggestion on getting started: “I would suggest stretching after every ride, but if that is too intimidating to start with, a great place to start is three times a week. If it is possible, each stretch should try to be held for 5 seconds, and can be repeated 2-3 times per position of the stretch. Remember not to try and force the stretch, the horse should develop elasticity naturally, and the more you practice these stretches, the easier they will become. Doing stretches correctly on a regular basis, paired with a proper warm-up, can be a great way keep your horse comfortable and allow them to develop more correct muscling. Through correct stretching, you will help prevent muscle, ligament or tendon damage caused by tension and stress that may build in the horses body over time.

DISCLAIMER: If you suspect that your horse may have any musculoskeletal issues, please consult a vet before beginning any sort of stretching program.

As a point of reference for our stretches:

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Carrot stretches! We have all heard of some form of them. They are GREAT for your horse and simple to do. Don’t fret if your horse isn’t super bendy or relaxed. It will take time to become more flexible. The more you do these stretches, the easier it will become. Here’s a carrot stretch cheat sheet from the University of Tennessee Equine Hospital to get you started. 
  1. Butt tuck: This is Finn’s least favorite stretch. She is very weird about things touching her butt. But I mean, I get it. I would be super weirded out too if someone came and started randomly trying to make me stretch my butt. (PSA: If your horse is ultra sensitive, sore in any way, or just downright hates having his butt touched, be very careful, you are at risk of being kicked when doing this.)

Benefits of doing butt tucks:

  • Flexion of the thoracolumbar spine
  • Flexion of the lumbosacral junction
  • Abdominal muscles engage to life the back
  • Hard to reach iliopsoas muscles are recruited

Here’s a video courtesy of Supple Equine Sports Massage, Darci Lorensen and her wonderful mare Athena:

Pelvis tucks demonstrated! ⚠️ This can be irritable to some horses and they may kick. Proceed with caution. Additionally, please consult with a vet before starting a stretching program if you suspect any muscular skeletal problems.

How?
Stand behind or slightly to the side of the hindquarters. Position your hands so one is on either side of the spine at the top of the hindquarters, use your fingertips and gently apply pressure on each side and move down toward the hind legs. This should result in the horse arching his back. If your horse doesn’t respond to pressure from your fingertips, you may need to use the backside (flat side) of a hoof-pick. I’ve encountered horses that will not do this exercise.

What are the benefits?
⚡️Flexion of the thoraco-lumbar spine
⚡️Flexion of the lumbo-sacral junction
⚡️Abdominal/core muscles engage to lift the back
⚡️Hard to reach iliopsoas muscles are recruited

Perform this regularly 4-5x/week for 3 months (it takes time to see results!), then you can back off to 3x/week.

Thank you to Darci and Athena for demonstrating!

Posted by Supple Equine Sports Massage on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

To get the most out of this stretch, it should be performed 4-5 times a week over 3 months, after which you can back off to 3 times a week.

  1. Belly-up: Great to do if you have a horse struggling with its topline. Try repeating this stretch a few times, building up to them holding their belly up for a few seconds at a time.  

  1. Hamstring stretch: This is one of my favorites for Finn. Because she is built so downhill, she will place a ton more stress onto her hind end when trying to collect. It’s great to really help your horse stretch and step underneath themselves.

Finn’s topline at the end of week 2:

Photo by Madison Givens.

For the Rider:

To follow in these week’s theme of stretching the horse, I recommend these stretches for riders.

Pigeon stretch: It’s one of my favorites considering I struggle with tight hips and lower back pain.

This next video is a little longer, but I am going to use it in place of some extra exercise this week.

I decided I needed a little zen in my life. I have found myself running circular arguments with myself as I ride, and as a result it gets taken out on Finn. She is so sensitive to my emotions that the more frustrated I become with myself and my own riding, the more anxious she becomes as a result. So after a lesson with a good friend of mine, I realized that I need to breath and take it easy. I hate to make this cheesy comment so early into our winter articles but “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Rather than fighting with my own self-expectations, I need to realize that it’s OK to have ups and downs.

So without further ado … equestrian yoga!

Notes from last week:

I would really love to start featuring ideas and comments from you guys! Please let me know how you are coping with this weather, and I will include it in next week’s article.

Thanks, Liz, for the suggestion on the painter’s mask! I never would have thought of picking something like that up for our dusty arena. Normally I just suffer through it and snot out dirt for the next three days.

For those of you who have been kind enough to read to the end, here is your reward! I threw a lot of different articles and examples at you this week, so I want to end on a fun note:

Once again, I can’t thank everyone for being a part of this with me. See you next time, when I am sure it will be even colder, and I will be considering a new career in indoor sports.

Go Eventing?

Photo by Madison Givens.

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